The Other Side of Animation 148: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

If you saw my editorials, talking about what I would like to see change in the big budget US animation scene, I talked about how certain studios should and could use a “shot in the arm” with trying out more ambitious storylines and visual styles. Animation is such a wonderful medium that is hamstrung by studios not bothering with stepping out of their comfort zones. Thankfully, Sony Pictures Animation decided to be a brave individual, and show that not only do you not need to spend triple digit millions, but can also make massive long-term profit and award acclaim with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by the trio of Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse was released back in December to universal acclaim, winning a massive pile of awards, and has certified itself by a team of me, myself, and I, as the best US animated film of 2018. Shall we swing into the review?

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The story revolves around Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s a high school student who lives in a world where Spider-Man exists. Nothing is really all that different here in this universe. Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, is loved, Miles dad, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry doesn’t trust Spider-Man, and Miles doesn’t really care about going the distance in becoming a better person. After hanging out with his uncle Aaron Davis, voiced by Mahershala Ali, Miles encounters Spider-Man attempting to stop King Pin, voiced by Liev Schreiber from using a giant machine to cause some supposed chaos. Luckily, Spider-Man sort of stops the machine from working while fending off Green Goblin and The Prowler. The bad news is that Spider-Man ends up getting killed by King Pin. The city is then swept over by sorrow from the loss of Spider-Man, and Miles feels responsible for the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. That is, until he encounters a much more self-defeated Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, voiced by Jake Johnson, from another universe. As the two try to find a way to get the alternate Spider-Man back to his own dimension, they encounter other Spider-Men from different dimensions. This includes Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicholas Cage, SP//dr, a Japanese anime-style Spider-Man/robot pilot voiced by Kimiko Glenn, and Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. They team up to try and stop King Pin, along with his lackeys Prowler, Tombstone, voiced by Marvin Jones III, Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Han, and Scorpion, voiced by Joaquin Cosio, from starting up the machine again, and possibly destroying Miles’ universe.

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Like a couple of times in my reviews, I want to talk about the animation first. This was the first big selling point when everyone saw the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The visuals are literally jaw dropping. You will lose your jaw, and then have to go get it surgically reattached with how incredible and striking the visuals are. Everyone has said it, and it’s true, it looks like a literal moving comic book. The bright colors, the many details you would see in most comic books, the textures, the lighting, the designs, and how it all meshes well. Not one character from the different dimensions stands out in a bad way. Everything flows and gels well. I have seen some people argue that the animation is bad, but I’m sorry, that’s just objectively wrong. If you follow animation, then you know Spider-Verse does not have bad animation. The slower framerate and movements are there for a reason. If everything moved as fast as say, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania franchise, it would be an eye sore with all the bright and multi-colored visuals. It’s a style of animation that is used in other parts of the world, like in The Painting and Zombillenium. It’s used to work with the unique art style and not a budget limitation. When you see as much animation that varies in both budget and quality, you can see what is style and what is bad animation. Norm of the North is bad animation. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse is good animation. End of lecture.

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In terms of the story, Spider-Verse has one of the most complex and complete stories out of most animated films in 2018. It’s the best told story among the US-made films. Films like Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet felt like they either didn’t go far enough with their themes and story, or only went at them in ways where they only go 50% and not 100%. Spider-Man fully commits to its multi-verse storyline mixed in with themes of coming of age, finding your own identity, not being fixated on events from the past, what it means to be a hero, and the harsh realities of being a hero. Every character works well with one another, and they treat everyone as characters. Sure, you can argue and nitpick and say that three of the six Spider-Mans don’t get as much development as the other three, but all six aren’t the main focus. The real focus is on Spider-Gwen, Miles, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Even Miles’ parents and Parker’s Aunt May are easily some of the best characters out of the movie. It’s so shocking to see an animated film treat everyone with actual dimension and not as one-note archetypes. While you can say that this film’s version of King Pin is not as good as the Netflix one, that isn’t really fair. This is one movie, whereas the Netflix one had three seasons to flesh out the character. It’s not really a perfect one on one comparison. However, you still get why King Pin is doing what he’s doing in the movie, and that’s pretty good. I also like how the film skims over origin stories. We really don’t need another Spider-Man movie that takes 40 minutes of its runtime to flesh out what happens. At least, it’s not a 100% origin story with the exception of Miles Morales, who has probably one of the best developments and stories out of any superhero movie.

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The voice cast for this film is perfect, and everyone seems to be on board and on the same level as everyone else. This isn’t like Venom or The Meg, where everyone, but one or two people know what kind of movie they are in. The talent is crazy good with Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfield, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, and as usual, seeing the late great Stan Lee in one of his last cameos is touching and endearing. The music is also incredible with plenty of amazing pop and rap songs that fit the tone perfectly. I even bought the soundtrack after I saw the film. I still listen to Vince Staples’ track.

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I really have no complaints about this movie. It’s truly the best US-made animated film of 2018, and congrats to Sony Pictures Animation for their successful 2018 line-up of animated features. Sure, I have minor gripes, but they really don’t matter when everything else is so strong. I highly recommend checking this film out, or getting it on blu-ray the day it comes out. It’s smart, funny, endearing, action-packed, and a blast. I think anyone who thought Sony Pictures Animation should just shut down and “drop dead” need to go crawl under a rock and never come back. Now then, before we hit 150, let’s keep making sure everything is awesome with LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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The Other Side of Animation 144: Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018) Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s another year, and that means another Illumination Entertainment movie. It also means another time to say how Illumination is not a horrible studio in the sea of vitriolic hate and anger that is the internet that hates this studio with a passion. Listen, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things to worry about than a studio that makes middle-of-the-road movies that rakes in boatloads of money, because they hit a massive audience. Now, in the context of the animation scene, I get the annoyance. You want films that put all the elbow grease into their animation, story, and writing to make all the money, or people to go see the incredible indie animation scene. Sadly, that’s an all too head-in-the-clouds way of knowing what’s going to actually happen. People are going to go see films that might not be perfect, but they personally find enjoyable. So, it is annoying that Illumination seems to do the bare minimum with their work, but rake in cash because of smart budgeting and business. It’s not their fault they are doing something that, at the end of the day, is going to make the studio money. Art might be why we make movies, but you can’t simply rely on that on its own to make the industry run. It’s a balancing act, and that’s why for every Missing Link, we get a Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch. Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney, this newest take on the beloved short story was released November 9th, and while getting mostly middling reviews, is raking in the money. To be fair, this is way better than the Ron Howard live-action version by millions of miles. Why? Well, let’s find out!

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Benedict Cumberbatch voices our main character, the Grinch, a green furry individual who hates everyone in Whoville, and especially the Christmas holiday. He doesn’t like the cheerfulness, he doesn’t like the joy, nor does he like his overly happy neighbor “friend” Bricklebaum, voiced by Kenan Thompson. The only proper thing to be mad about is the aggressive groups of Christmas carolers that harass him while he goes to the store. When he finds out that the Whoville citizens are going to throw a Christmas celebration that’s three times bigger than normal, Grinch decides to steal the Who’s Christmas with the help of his dog Max. He has only a few hours to get it all done, and will encounter a few challenges, like cookies and little Cindy Lou Who, voiced by Cameron Seely. Can he do it? I mean, you know about the original story by now, or at the very least, you should.

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Let’s talk about the positives that the film brings to the table. While sounding more snarky, sassy, and almost making you wonder what would have happened if Bill Hader got the role, Benedict Cumberbatch does a solid job as our grumpy green icon. I like that if you aren’t paying attention, or know that it’s him beforehand, you might actually think it’s Bill Hader doing the voice of the Grinch. The rest of the voice cast is also pretty solid. While not all of the characters get worthwhile dialogue sequences, like Rashida Jones’ role as Cindy Lou’s mother, other actors like Kenan Thompson get some of the better laughs in the movie. Oh, and the Whos are actually nice in this film. It’s fine if you grew up and love the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard version, but the one thing the film royally screwed up in that movie was making the Whos the most unlikable blithering individuals. They even have a few story elements that, while they do not go into them at all because it’s Illumination, I liked the ideas of. For example, Grinch has a “neighbor” who is always happy, optimistic, and friendly toward him, while being fairly unaware that Grinch hates him. But you can kind of see two different individuals who deal with the same kind of loneliness, but deal with it in different ways.  It would have been nice if they went more into that, but again, it’s Illumination, depth isn’t their strong point.

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On an animation side of things, The Grinch is probably Illumination’s most visually impressive movie. You can tell that whatever the studio is using to animate this film, the artists and animators they have are incredibly talented. It’s colorful, has some of that Seuss whimsy in its designs, but also has its own Illumination touch. A lot of the textures and details were simply impressive to look at on the big screen. I even heard the 3D version is decent, but my viewing was in 2D. The animation on the character work also made for some solid physical comedy moments. All the visuals accumulate into the heist sequence, and while it is short, is a lot of fun to watch with the fantastical Christmas designs.

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Many of the film’s problems come into the fray with making this story feature-length. Due to the original special being about 25 minutes in length, you don’t get to the actual heist part of the film until maybe halfway or a little over halfway through the 80-minute runtime. It adds in sequences of the Grinch interacting with the Who, and while this could have led to something interesting, it’s more lightweight snark and physical comedy. Along with more sequences of the Grinch with the Who, they give Cindy Lou a subplot and a group of friends who do not add anything at all to the overall story. It even takes out the major threat of the Grinch by giving him a reason why he slightly hates Christmas. The strength of the original special was that he didn’t really have a set reason to hate the holiday. As I sat through the film, I found myself bored at times, because some of the jokes weren’t landing. The audience I was with was the same, but they definitely got a few more chuckles out of the film than me. I also found myself thinking about scenes and ways the film could have improved upon itself through visual storytelling. However, I can’t judge the film because of scenes or ways of filmmaking I would found to be better, but with the film I have here, and it’s simply put, it’s another Illumination film.

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In general, it’s another safe, visually pretty, decently funny, and forgettable animated feature. It might have a nice ending, Benedict Cumberbatch was good as the Grinch, and again, visually splendid animation, but why would you waste the money to go to this film? Just go see Ralph Breaks the Internet, or go and try to find a screening of Mirai or Liz and the Blue Bird to watch. I still stand by my opinion that Illumination isn’t the worst studio around, but it’s becoming harder to defend them when they are not willing to try and push themselves into more creative directions. They make money hand over fist, and they should be able to now experiment a little with different writers, directors, and animation styles. Hopefully, they start doing that more in the future. Now then, let’s talk about one of the great action-animated films of 2018 with MFKZ. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 136: Hotel Transylvania 3 Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

To me, the Hotel Transylvania franchise gets a lot more flack than it really should. Not to say that the films are flawless, I mean, they aren’t perfect films, but they are ultimately harmless. The hate these films receive seems to be way more critical than studios that have made worse films. Again, they have their flaws, and some parts are going to be more negatively received than others, but in a world where Guardian Brothers and Norm of the North exist, you can watch much worse in the animation scene than the Hotel Transylvania franchise. I was curious to see how the newest film, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacationwould work out. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky again, we see Sony take its franchise and instead of releasing it in the fall like the last two, it uproots our heroes for a summer release. Does it work? Well, let’s see what we find.

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Adam Sandler returns as Dracula, who is having a bit of a rough patch in running the hotel with his daughter Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez. He’s feeling lonely, and has no time for such things like dating or taking a break, while running the hotel. Mavis then decides to take her family and the entire gang on a cruise at the Bermuda Triangle. As Dracula and his friends/family get on the cruise, he catches himself zinging/falling for the captain of the ship, Erika, voiced by Kathryn Hahn. Unfortunately, no one knows that Erika’s full name is Erika Van Helsing, the great granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, voiced by Jim Gaffigan. Will Dracula find out before it’s too late and everyone is in trouble? Will they enjoy some really good visual gags and jokes?

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Let’s get the good out of the way, first. I know some people would rather hear me talk about the bad, but for me, I found a lot to love about this movie. First off, the animation is still amazing. No matter what pros and cons the individual films in the series have, the animation from Genndy Tartakovsky and his team bring so much life and identity with the films, and it’s no different here. Heck, Genndy himself makes a lot of jokes that wouldn’t have worked otherwise by a lesser director. They also take advantage of the setting, with the characters like the wolves dropping their kids off at daycare, Frankenstein and his gambling addiction, Atlantis as a casino with a giant kraken voiced by Joe Jonas, the shuffleboard goal being the outline of a dead body, the plane ride to the Bermuda Triangle being piloted and run by gremlins, and you get the idea. You can tell that the animators had a lot of fun working on this film, due to how lively, expressive, and entertaining the characters are. While no one really has a story arc outside of Dracula, I think everyone had a good gag, joke, or line. Some of the characters also felt more like characters than in the last movie. That’s probably because Adam Sandler was not behind the writing for this film. I think some of best gags also come from the fish servants that are all voiced by Chris Parnell. One of the biggest laughs that the audience and I got was at the scene where Chris is singing the Macklemore song Downtown in a super deadpan style. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Dracula and Erika. It was cute at times. I know much of this film is gag-driven, and can feel a lot like a Looney Toons cartoon, but it still finds moments for characters to breath and talk. Sure, it has predictable plot elements, but I liked elements that other people have criticized in this film. One example I find myself disagreeing with is that Dracula is being terrible by hiding the secret to Mavis that he has a crush on Erika. To me, I think that’s a bit more realistic, because how would you feel as a single parent and finding someone that reignites that spark, but you are worried about how your kids would react? The same goes for Mavis, as while it almost comes off like she has the exact same plotline as Dracula does in the first film, she’s nervous. I think there is a bit more heart in this film than others are saying. I even love how they flipped the whole dance sequence trope that happens in other films. I won’t spoil what happens, but I think everyone will get a laugh out of it.

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Now, with all that said, I still have plenty of flaws to talk about with this one. While I was laughing, it was laughing more at the reactions and physical aspects more than the jokes. While I’m glad the film didn’t overload the film with subplots, I wish more characters had something to do. They finally pay off the joke that the invisible man has an actual invisible girlfriend, but nothing is done with it. They make Frankenstein’s wife and him more of a loving couple, but not the invisible woman? I also wish Mel Brooks’ Vlad did more. The second film didn’t utilize him enough, and he’s basically background noise here. Jim Gaffigan is a wildly entertaining addition to the franchise, but, you guessed it, not a lot to do until the end. I also found the film predictable, but this film’s story was not its full focus. I respect that Hotel Transylvania 3 was meant more for gags, but I do wish there was more story in this film like there was in the first one.

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I know some people are mad at Genndy’s response to the Critics response to the film series’ reception, but I feel like he has a point. I found myself having a fun time, and needed a goofy romp after a stressful week of work. Now, I’m not saying I don’t get why people don’t like this series or find problems with it. I totally get why this might not be for everyone, but for me, I enjoyed it. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s not going to harm you or is sending some kind of negative message. It even has a nice moral at the end. While I don’t know how much more they can pull from this franchise, I have enjoyed my time with it. Sometimes, you just need a lightweight movie. So then, next time, let’s dive into a wacky and surprisingly humorous time with Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 135: White Fang Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s not hard to see the many complaints about Netflix and their ways of picking up anything for their service, despite its quality or lack of. They want content for their service, but they don’t always get great stuff. Maybe out of every six or so films they pick up, only one and, if you are lucky, two of them will be really good. It doesn’t help either that companies use this to their advantage to slide their films that tested poorly or no one cared about, onto the service and take the loss. You know, how the cowardly spineless Weinsteins hid Guardian Brothers and Underdogs on the service. Luckily, that isn’t always the case, and while the upcoming Duck Duck Goose will be talked about, since it matches that notion I mentioned, let’s talk about a good Netflix animated film with White Fang. Based on the book of the same name written by Jack London, and directed by Alexandre Espigares, the director of the Oscar-winning short Mr. HublotWhite Fang is a CGI-animated feature that was picked up by Netflix, and was released on July 6th 2018 on the service. It was a film I was interested in when I saw the unique art direction and the English cast, including Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Paul Giamatti, and Eddie Spears. It seems to have gone under the radar for many people, and I want everyone to know that this is a good Netflix-animated feature. Let’s dive in.

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The story is about a wolf cub that lived with his mother. It follows his life through meeting a Native American tribe, and becoming one of the sled dogs of the chief named Grey Beaver, dubbed by Eddie Spears. His eventual change of ownership is to a snarly evil individual named Beauty Smith, dubbed by Paul Giamatti, and a home with a husband and wife named Marshal Weedon Scott and Maggie Scott, dubbed by Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones.

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I think a major concern for any animated film coming out is that since so many people find animation just a kid’s game, the studios won’t put effort into the film. They will try to do the minimal job to make it interesting, make the animation look nice, and push it out for the sake of making money, because animation is huge right now. Surprisingly, White Fang goes against a multitude of traditional kids’ film tropes. For one, White Fang is more episodic in its storytelling. It’s more about the life the wolf went through, and less of an overarching plot. The only real conflict of plot comes into play in the second half, when Paul Giamatti’s character comes into the story. It’s a slower-paced film. It takes its time with the story, and besides the humans, none of the animals talk. For the most part, it lets the visuals tell the story. It’s also a quiet film. It’s not loud, obnoxious, and there aren’t really any animal shenanigans. It’s like this film wanted to be everything anti-modern big Hollywood animation that isn’t Disney or Pixar. It’s a change of pace that might be jarring to many who are familiar with more fast-paced antics and storytelling. The humans aren’t even the main characters. They are there more to interact with White Fang, and don’t really have any major story arcs or challenges they need to face. I mean, you do see them more than once, but the story keeps White Fang as the main focus. It’s honestly nice to see an animated film that makes sure to treat the viewers as, well, humans. Not everything needs to be super loud, bouncy, and all that jazz. It doesn’t sugarcoat what life was like back in that time period and for certain individuals. Sure, Paul Giamatti’s character is a touch cheesy and obviously a villain, but he’s not a bumbling idiot like most bad villains from animated films. It’s a more grounded-experience, and while I’m not going to compare it to the darker animated films of the 80s, it gets close to that realm with certain scenes.

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The animation is another high point. While you can definitely tell that this did not have a massive Hollywood budget, a good studio and director can take a small budget and run with it. The painted look on the characters gives the film its own visual flair. The humans and animals all move very realistically, but they never felt robotic in their movements. It gives the film this painting-in-motion look that I love. Another fine addition to the good animation is the music. Like a lot of the film, the music is quiet and in the background, and only gets loud and orchestrated during integral scenes and intense moments. Bruno Coulais, the same composer behind CoralineMune: Guardian of the MoonThe Secret of Kells, and Song of the Sea, brought a lot of those same elements to this film with its European folk-sounding music.

If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s definitely the fact that while it  is definitely aimed at a slightly older audience, you can tell what’s going to happen, and what kind of character each human is. I mean, are you really going to look at someone like Paul Giamatti’s character and say he’s a good guy? I’m sure some of these characters and their personalities come from the book, but you won’t be seeing anything new here. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with that, because what matters to me is how you execute the story, but don’t be expecting some brand new variation on the original story. I’ll say that it feels more complete as a story than Incredibles 2 does.

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While it might not reinvent the wheel into some kind of fancy future wheel, White Fang is a really good animated feature. I’m actually kind of shocked Netflix got a good one, but then again, when they find films through festival circuits, they tend to do better than with this week’s Duck Duck Goose release. I definitely recommend checking it out. I honestly found myself surprised by how good it is. If you are looking for an animated film that’s going to be slower in its pace, and offers something different than other animated films in theaters, definitely check it out! While the summer might be ending soon, the animation is going to keep coming. Next time, we are going to look at Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 129: Batman Ninja Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hardBatman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 124: Gnomeo & Juliet Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Many would argue that animation’s darkest year was 1985. This was the year Disney’s The Black Cauldron came out, bombed, got panned, and lost to The Care Bears Movie. Outside of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Gwen, The Book of Sand, there was nothing else. I do agree with that opinion, but there have been a lot of bad/underwhelming years for animation. You not only have 1985, but you have 1987, 1997, 2006, and one of the more interesting years to talk about, 2011. 2011 had a lot of the same problems 2017 had, where there was not much to look forward to, and much of it felt like filler, just to get to the few mainstream films and the indie darlings. Even the indie animation wasn’t stellar in 2011. So, where does Gnomeo & Juliet rest on the list of films from 2011? Directed by Kelly Asbury, the same director behind the DreamWorks hit Shrek 2Gnomeo & Juliet, if you couldn’t tell by the title, is a variation on the famous tragic romance story of, well, Romeo & Juliet. While it didn’t get the best reviews, with an overall rating of 56% and a reviewer average of 5.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a surprise financial hit. Then again, when you do not have a lot of competition, you are bound to do well. It even spawned a sequel that we will get to next time. So, after seven years, and learning that this was a passion project for Elton John, does this film actually hold up? Let’s check it out, and see what happens.

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The story takes place between two gardens that are next to each other. One belongs to Mrs. Montague, and the other belongs to Mr. Capulet. Once they leave the house, the garden gnomes from both gardens come to life. We then focus on our two leads, Gnomeo, played by James McAvoy and Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt. Their families hate each other, and oddly enough, the two gnomes fall for each other. Can they find a way to be in love with one another before war breaks out between the two families? Can Elton John shove in as many references to himself as possible?

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So, let’s talk about the positives first. While I am not the biggest fan of this film, nor do I think it’s some underrated gem, I do have a few positives aspects to talk about. While not having a huge budget, the film’s budget was at a supposed $36 mil, they did find a way to work with it. The animation is not fluid, but you could argue that is the point. Because of how they are made of clay, you can excuse the textures and their clunky movements. I mean, it’s not like garden gnomes stay clean 24-7. They get affected by the environment and weather. This argument can’t be used for every part of the film’s CGI animation, but at the very least, the garden gnomes and garden items can use it.

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When the film isn’t focusing on pandering family film elements, and decides to focus on Gnomeo and Juliet, their chemistry is cute. Emily Blunt and James McAvoy work well off each other, and their relationship dynamic can be adorable at times. I also like the lawn flamingo, but that could be because he’s voiced by one of the greatest voice actors of all time, Jim Cummings. The flamingo probably has the second best story bits besides Gnomeo and Juliet. While I didn’t laugh a whole lot, there were a few jokes and moments that did get a small chuckle. Some of the Elton John references were cute, but that’s because I know who he is. The ad for the super lawnmower that is narrated by Hulk Hogan is also enjoyable, but in that “oh, I know who that is” kind of way. I don’t know if kids would find any of this film funny, because I saw this by myself. Now, you can calculate how sad that a 28 year old is watching an animated feature by himself on your own time.

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Everything else from this point on, fumbles and cracks onto the ground like a potted plant falling from a three-story window. The story is fairly predictable, and since this will not follow the ending of the film, it’s hard to sit there, knowing what’s going to happen at the end. This is especially the case when you are watching this to review its sequel. Many of the side characters are harmless, but they don’t leave that much of an impression on you. It makes you wonder why they got Ozzy Osbourne for the deer when he doesn’t really add anything to the role. At least in Brutal Legend, he was himself and was having an obvious blast with his character. It always bugs me when you get celebrities for cameos, and do nothing with them. While I give a somewhat pass to the animation, you can definitely tell this needed more polish. Of course, more polish might be a bad thing at times, but I wouldn’t be taken out of the experience when the animation quality dropped at the level of straight-to-DVD films.

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Really, it’s tough to be mad at this film. Gnomeo and Juliet is harmless. It’s really forgettable, and while not a good film at all, it’s not super memorable enough to be as the filmgoers like to say “terra-bad”. If you see it for a dollar or something, then I think you would be seeing a harmless, if ultimately mediocre animated feature. It’s definitely way better than Mars Needs Moms and Hoodwinked Too, but only by a slim margin, because it had some heart in the production. I definitely would be recommending films like Song of the Sea or Ernest & Celestine over Gnomeo & Juliet. Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, as the next review is of the sequel, Sherlock Gnomes. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 116: Ferdinand Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I was talking to my friend the other day about something I never really thought about, do I care about the state of a studio because I’m a critic, and do only the critics and hardcore filmgoers care about the status of studios like Blue Sky Studios and Illumination Entertainment? I ask this question, since while critics are meant to judge a film, and focus more on the finer details, and break it down in a manner that makes sense, and to look beyond the film and at the studio at times. However, casual moviegoers are probably not invested as much with what the studio is doing and if they are evolving their craft or not. I do think that is somewhat changing. While people are still really fine with seeing Illumination Entertainments offerings, franchises like Ice Age, Transformers, and to a lesser degree, The Nut Job, recently bombed at the domestic box office in the states. Even though they sort of picked up traction overseas, there were signs that people were ready to move on, and find something different and more worth their time. I do think both critics and audiences do care about what a studio puts out, but the amount that casual moviegoers will put up with will vary. Hence, why I was curious to see how Ferdinand would do. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, and made by Blue Sky Studios, I thought Ferdinand was going to be an interesting film. I use interesting in the sense that this was the next film right after Ice Age: Collision Course, one of, if not, the worst-reviewed Blue Sky Studios film. I think after Collision Course, people were beginning to get weary and not really trust what the studio had coming next. The film was released December 15th here in the states, and while it got overall pretty solid reviews, its box office numbers were definitely a sluggish climb up past its $111 mil budget. I mean, then again, when you are going against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, your numbers may vary. It isn’t technically bombing, but I think it was obvious people were weary. Did they have a right to be? Well, let’s check it out.

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The story obviously revolves around Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena. Back in the day, he grew up in a bull fighting ranch where bull fighters go to pick the biggest and best bulls to fight. Of course, if you know anything about the source material, Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers and not fight. One night after escaping the ranch when he finds out his dad never came back, Ferdinand ends up being adopted by a flower farmer and his daughter. After spending years with them, Ferdinand grows to be gigantic in size. One day, when he decides to go to the flower festival to see his owners, an accident occurs with him looking like a giant monster. He then gets sent right back to the same bull farm from many years ago. It’s up to Ferdinand, along with his friends, to escape the horrific nature of bull fighting, and be free animals.

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So, I know the trailers for this film didn’t look the best, but if you actually watch it, there is honestly a lot of aspects to like. First up, let’s talk about John Cena as Ferdinand. It was a bit concerning, since while he has acted in films before, this was essentially his first major lead role. You simply don’t hear enough about good acting career stories from wrestlers. Luckily, Cena does a pretty good job as the lead. He’s likable, energetic, has decent comedic timing, and it was never distracting that he was the main character. In fact, a lot of the big downsides to Blue Sky Studios films are the fact that you never see the characters as characters, but as the celebrities who play them. Again, the celebrities are not distracting in this film. Sure, you can recognize a few by the tone of their voices alone, but they actually put in the time to act, and get into their own respected characters. Yes, not all of them are endearing, and some are annoying, but at least more effort was put into these performances than most bad animated films. I think my favorite performances came from the bull characters. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, and Tim Nordquist were all distinct and fairly memorable. I think my favorite was David Tennant as Angus. He had the funniest delivery of the other bulls, but the rest hold their weight. I found the bulls’ chemistry to be more of the heart of the film, outside of Ferdinand and the family he grew up with.

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I also respect that the story does actually go the distance to a degree about the life of bull fighting and the sad fates of many bulls that either fight or are not up to par. Seriously, it was almost tonal whiplash that they do show what happens when bulls are not up to par, and the fact that for the most part, most bulls will die and never make it back after they fight. It was actually shocking, because much of this film is that pandering kids film vibe that you normally see in a Blue Sky Studios film. From time to time however, they will show off the darker side of bullfighting, and even let Ferdinand and some of the characters have moments of quiet. I think one of my favorite parts was when Ferdinand helped Angus out, and the two got to sit down and look at the beautiful landscape. I adore that this film went the extra mile to show that you don’t need constant comedy or loud noises to keep kids focused. It felt like it was trying to be something on the level of Pixar or Disney. I was honestly emotionally invested throughout a lot of the story. With the exception of the first Ice Age, Robots, and The Peanuts Movie, I’m usually fairly checked out of a lot of Blue Sky films, because they don’t always do a good job with making interesting stories and characters.

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In terms of animation, the film is very beautiful. It has a few faults that I will mention later, but the animation is fluid, it has a good energy to it, and the designs seem very old-school cartoon, exaggerated in terms of their designs and how they move. The backgrounds and field shots are lush, the colors are vibrant, and the human designs are pretty decent. It’s nice to see humans that don’t instantly look like something similar to Disney and Pixar. I even liked the music by John Powell and the obvious original songs by Nick Jonas.

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So, it’s all the more irritating that I have many complaints about Ferdinand as well. It’s so close to being a really good animated film, but it’s only good. Why? Well, because it has a tone problem. The calm and collected tone is constantly shoved to the side for more of the comedy/audience pandering aspects, like multiple side characters that don’t really offer much purpose to the main story, more childish humor, and a dance-off. The dance-off really sums up everything bad about the film. It comes out of nowhere, apparently everyone knows how to dance, and once it is finished, it is never mentioned again by any of the characters. I get that it probably tested well with test audiences that were full of kids, and while I did enjoy it to a degree, it’s distracting to the overall tone. The side characters outside of the bulls are not all that interesting. The hedgehogs, while played well by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, don’t do much in the movie. Early footage from the first trailer made it look like they had more to do, but they don’t serve much of a purpose, outside of Ferdinand trying to get out of the bull ranch. The German show horses played by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Philips also have the same problem. You never see them after the bulls escape. Yes, I get that they sort of symbolize humans’ need to compete, but as characters that help progress the story, they didn’t do much. And yes, Kate McKinnon isn’t given good enough material to be tolerable. She’s not the worst, and I know she can be funny, but she comes off more annoying than anything else as the goat. Even the villain is not great. You have this bullfighter played by Miguel Angel Silvestre, who is just a boring villain. They had a lot of chances to make him more complex before and after the third act fight between him and Ferdinand, but they don’t do anything. The animation is pretty consistent, but the humans come off as clunky. It’s not a problem with them being snappy in their movements, it’s the fact that they look stiff. By the way, while they are minimal in how much they appear, no one likes twerk, butt, or fart jokes. Stop adding them into your movies, Blue Sky. I know they are not the only studios to do this with animated films, but they do it more often than others.

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In the end, Ferdinand is good, but it had so much lost potential. It succeeds in what it wanted to do, but it’s not a steady ride to the finish, and your experience may vary. There is a reason why this film dragged itself across a month or more due to the success of Coco and then having to deal with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I see no harm in actually seeing this in theaters, and if you have children that have watched Coco to death in theaters, and can’t find a theater playing Mary and the Witch’s Flower, then definitely go see it or rent it. It’s an ultimately harmless film, and easily one of Blue Sky’s best offerings. Well, that was fun, but we shall now move on to more indie stuff as we look at GKids’ Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it